Families Get $4 Million For Fracking Water Contamination

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"544","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"386","style":"width: 366px; height: 294px; margin: 3px 10px; float: left;","title":"Cartoon: John Cole","width":"480"}}]]In March, a federal jury awarded a total of $4.2 million to two families from Dimock, Pennsylvania whose drinking water wells have been contaminated by Cabot Oil and Gas when drilling for natural gas. 
 

Water Abuse in the Fracking Process

- by Alex Lotorto, Energy Justice Network

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"509","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"384","style":"width: 263px; height: 384px; margin: 3px 10px; float: left;","width":"263"}}]]Water is used in shale gas development from cradle to grave, however, most people don't think about it beyond the issues of groundwater contamination.

Procuring and bringing raw materials like silica sand, steel, cement, and fracking chemicals to the well locations requires an incredible amount of manufacturing, transportation, and plant fuel, which are water intensive fuels to produce.
 
Each well requires 5-9 million gallons of water to be fracked. Water is also used to create oil-based drilling muds that are injected downhole when the well is first drilled to lubricate the drill bit. For pipelines, the most prevalent way infrastructure is tested for integrity is hydrostatic testing, where water is used to pressurize the lines and test for leaks.
 
Water withdrawals are approved by states and in some cases by federal river commissions. Because the water is combined with fracking fluid, sand, chemicals, and underground contaminants, much of it never returns to the water cycle. In fact, between 50 to 80 percent of the water used in fracking remains deep underground, forever entombed.

In 2012, the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, comprised of governors' representatives from PA, MD, and New York, as well as the White House, approved a three million gallon per day water withdrawal in Jersey Shore, PA that required the removal and relocation of 32 mobile home resident families.

Drought conditions in Texas' Barnett Shale and California's Monterrey Shale regions force residential, commercial, and agricultural consumers to compete with the needs of fracking companies.

If well casings fail or fissures communicate with groundwater supplies, contamination of rural landowners' drinking water can occur. In 2009, 18 water supplies in Dimock, Pennsylvania were found by the Pennsylvania DEP to have been contaminated by drilling mud, fracking chemicals, and methane. Three remaining families are suing the driller, Cabot Oil & Gas, for damages and are going to federal jury trial this November with the support of Energy Justice Network.
 
Waste streams from the drilling create water contamination issues. Increasingly, the industry brags about "recycling" water, or "beneficial reuse," which entails filtering the drilling mud and fracking waste through an accordion press, similar to cheesecloth, to remove the solids. This allows the remaining liquid to be reused with more water in future frack jobs. What the industry doesn't tell you is that the solids are sent to municipal landfills that discharge their leachate into surface waters.
 
Another popular way of disposing of liquid waste from fracking is deep underground injection wells, known as Class II wells, permitted by the EPA. This method of disposal has been linked to earthquakes by Ohio state geologists because the "slick water" as it's known by the industry, can lubricate faults.
 
Finally, water is intensively used by gas power plants that are being built at an alarming rate to generate steam and cool the plant. Cooling water is discharged into surface water and can cause disruption to local ecosystems that are sensitive to temperature like trout fisheries. The consumption of water can also compete with the needs of local water consumers in times of drought, when utilities may be required to raise rates.

Eviction of Mobile Home Park for Fracking Water

- by Alex Lotorto, Energy Justice Network
 
[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"507","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"360","style":"width: 333px; height: 250px; margin: 3px 10px; float: left;","width":"480"}}]]Riverdale Mobile Home Park was located on the Susquehanna River in Piatt Township, Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania. Residents were ordered to leave the park in March 2012 by Aqua PVR LLC, a project of Aqua America, a private water utility, and Penn Virginia Resources, a natural gas pipeline company. 
 
The property was purchased in order to build a water withdrawal pump station and water line that would withdraw three million gallons per day for use in hydraulic fracturing by Range Resources, a Texas-based Marcellus shale drilling company. Each shale gas well requires five to nine million gallons of water to force open the rock, allowing the gas to flow out.
 
Aqua America's facility takes 6,000 water truck trips off the road each day, according to Aqua America, which displaced truck drivers, parts suppliers, fuel deliverers, mechanics, and service employees from their jobs in Lycoming County. The Marcellus shale industry hasn't proposed any relief, solution, or alternative to this loss of employment opportunities for Pennsylvania residents. 
 
The facility's two permits were approved by the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, a federal commission made up of Governors Corbett (R-PA), Cuomo (D-NY), O'Malley (D-MD), and President Obama.
 
The capacity of the park was 37 units and in March 2012, 32 families lived there. The initial offer from Aqua America included $2,500 for residents to move by April 1 and $1,200 for residents to move by May 1.
 
Immediately after the tragic story of Riverdale hit the press with the help of volunteers, Aqua America extended the deadline for $2,500 in compensation until June 1st.
 
A series of town halls, vigils, and picnics were organized by residents with some help from volunteers from around northeast and central Pennsylvania in opposition to the project. Residents and allies even held protests at Aqua America's headquarters in Bryn Mawr, at their shareholder meeting, and in front of Aqua's CEO Nick DeBenedictis' mansion in Ardmore.
 
Unfortunately, many residents felt forced to leave the park for reasons including fear of losing the $2,500 offer, uncertainty of what Aqua would do on June 1, and termination of their leases.
 
At the time of the final vigil on May 31, only seven families remained at Riverdale. Those families invited and hosted volunteers from all over Pennsylvania and surrounding states that evening to stay until morning when construction was scheduled to begin in an effort dubbed "Hands Across Riverdale."
 
They issued the following demands:
We demand that Aqua America sit down with the residents and their representation to negotiate in good faith a fair deal that...
1. Permits the remaining residents to stay living at Riverdale Mobile Home Park.
 
2. Provides those residents who have left with just compensation to cover their expenses.
 
3. Allows for the return of all residents who have left and wish to return.
 
On June 1, no construction vehicles came and road barricades boldly stated, "We Will Fight For Our Homes" and "Aqua America Kills Community." The following day, Aqua America sat down to negotiate with three pro-bono lawyers representing residents at the company headquarters in Bryn Mawr. A tentative agreement was reached and the residents were informed of the terms the following week. 
 
Details of that agreement are not publicly available at this time but it did include a "gag order," or non-disclosure agreement forbidding the residents and their children from speaking about the incident.
 
For a total of 12 days, Riverdale blossomed once again behind the barricades, despite all the suffering already endured. Volunteers joined to cook, run security shifts to prevent looting, move sheds, salvage building materials, plant a garden, provide child care, leaflet Jersey Shore and Williamsport, and to blast the story of Riverdale all over social networks.
 
On the twelfth day, Aqua America sent a subcontracted security firm to secure the site. Activists blocked the road in defiance, demanding that Aqua America continue to negotiate with residents in good faith. State police arrived on scene and ordered the protesters to move. There were no arrests. A chain link fence across the front of the park was constructed and later, a barbed wire fence surrounding the pump station construction area was added.
 
Round the clock security guards were stationed at the front of the park, which was lit with light towers resembling a prison. Construction proceeded even with the seven families remaining at Riverdale, including four young children. Finally, the $10,000 raised through online crowdfunding helped the residents move and relieved those who had already left with some financial burdens.
 
Former residents are scattered around the area. Many of the seniors were forced from independence into senior care centers. Three senior residents have passed away since, dislocated from the riverside community they chose to spend the rest of their life.
 
Some residents moved their homes to less desirable and more expensive parks, some are renting more expensive apartments and mobile homes, some are on the low-income housing waiting list, and others are staying with family and friends.
 
The story of Riverdale illustrates how little the gas companies, the governors, and President Obama care about the livelihoods of poor people when it comes to fossil fuel extraction.

Dirt Cheap Clean Energy? | January issue of Energy Justice Now

Just in time, the January issue of Energy Justice Now — the national forum for the Dirty Energy Resistance — is here!

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"381","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"480","style":"width: 333px; height: 333px; margin: 3px 10px; float: left;","width":"480"}}]]Inside this issue:

- Dirt Cheap Clean Energy

-  Energy Storage and Solar Inspiring Customers to Drop Utilities?

Destruction of Demand: How to Shrink Our Energy Footprint

...and more!

Please share the January 2015 issue of Energy Justice Now with your friends, colleagues, neighbors, media, and elected officials! 

Subscribe to monthly email issues of Energy Justice Now!

 

 

A Dollar a Day Keeps the Smokestacks Away

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"356","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"480","style":"color: rgb(73, 73, 73); font-family: Verdana, sans-serif; line-height: 20.671998977661133px; width: 444px; height: 444px; margin: 3px 10px; float: left;","width":"480"}}]]This is not just another fundraising letter.  We want to remind you of all the services we provide to help YOU protect your community from corporate polluters.  After all, Energy Justice Network exists to empower, inform, advise and support grassroots activists to win victories -- transforming communities from dumping grounds for dirty energy and waste industries into vibrant places where clean solutions can flourish.

We're excited that 2014 has been our best year yet, with 16 victories that we helped make possible.  It's also been our best year for individual donations, totaling about $80,000 so far.  Our goal is to reach $100,000 by the end of the year.  Please help if you can by making a donation of $15-150 for 2015!  We plan to expand our capacity to better serve the many communities seeking our support over the coming year.

How we help you win:

Community Organizing Support and Advice - We've "been there and done that" and can help you get a community group organized and on a path to victory.  We can help with strategy development, outreach plans, how to use open records laws and public hearings to your advantage, social media strategies, corporate research, designing flyers and websites, and much more.

Getting Networked! – We can put you in touch with other grassroots activists who you might want to know in your area, or those elsewhere who have fought the same company, technology or fuel, so you can learn from their experience.  We also use conference calls and email discussion lists to help you connect on specific issues.  We have lists on natural gas, nuclear, coal, several types of incineration (separate lists for trash, biomass, tire and poultry waste incineration), ethanol biorefineries, electric power transmission lines and more.

Information / Research – We document the problems with technologies that communities face, making complex info into useful factsheetspowerpoints and articles available through our newsletter, Energy Justice Now, and throughout our Energy Justice.net and EJnet.org websites.  We have access to legal and science journal databases, and data from industry conferences that we can tap to help you.

Speaking / Trainings - Need a speaker, trainer or workshop presenter?  We do trainings for students, community groups and conferences on a range of topics and skills.  See Mike and Alex's topic lists for a guide.

Limited Legal and Technical Support - We help communities stop polluters with local ordinances, and understand many complex technical and legal issues.

Energy Justice Map - Our interactive mapping site tracks existing, proposed, closed and defeated dirty energy and waste facilities, the corporations behind them, and the people and groups fighting them.  It allows you to share information on polluters you're fighting, let people find your group through our site, and learn what polluters are in (or planned for) your area. 

Our new JusticeMap.org site is the first to enable easy race and class demographic mapping, and is being integrated into our mapping site, so you can easily build environmental justice maps, showing if polluters are targeting low-income or communities of color.  Our newest EJ mapping tool allows you to evaluate environmental justice trends in entire industries.

Policy Analysis and Development - With an eye for loopholes that would allow polluting industries to continue to harm communities, we've pushed to strengthen energy, waste and climate policies at all levels of government, and among our environmental allies.

Working with Students and Youth - We have a long history with the student environmental movement, from working with the Student Environmental Action Coalition since the 1990s, to co-founding Energy Action Coalition in 2004, to founding state-wide student environmental networks in Pennsylvania and Ohio.  Our new Energy Justice Shale Initiative has brought students and recent college graduates together in a group house to work with shalefield residents fighting fracking, compressor stations and pipelines in the most fracked community in the nation, in northeastern Pennsylvania.  

An Energy Justice Shale Convergence is planned for mid-March to train students and others to support local residents in Susquehanna County, PA.  We have other campus organizing resources compiled here.

Activist Calendar - Share your events on our calendar!  It's the only one to organize events by geography, so if you sign up for our map and want event updates by email, you'll see all the major events, and only have to see the local ones for your area.

Action Alert System - Tired of using online petitions like change.org where you don't get all of the contact info from those who sign?  So were we, so we made our own system, which Energy Justice member groups can also use (joining is free!).  You'll get the full contact info from all who sign, and can target state or national legislators by district, or other email targets.  Unlike change.org, the message will go to the target, and direct from the signer's email.  Messages and alerts can include links and images, too!  Contact us if you're interested.


How do we provide all of this with a skeleton crew of two full-time and four part-time people and almost no overhead costs?  Let's just say, we're good at what we do, and are the best investment you can make to support grassroots work over the coming year!  Please make a generous donation of $15-150 for 2015.  Regular, monthly donations (no matter how small) are even better!

...and if we're the ones who should be supporting you, please be in touch and we'll join you on the path to victory!

Happy Holidays!

Mike, Traci, Aaron, Alex, Josh and Samantha

Fracking Wastewater Treatment Facility Proposed in Pennsylvania

 - by Nicole Mulvaney, December 10, 2014, Times of Trenton

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"342","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","style":"width: 222px; height: 167px; margin: 3px 10px; float: left;"}}]]An Israeli water recycling company is proposing a hazardous waste treatment facility about 6 miles southwest of Trenton across the Delaware River in the Keystone Industrial Port Complex.

Elcon Recycling Center, which has an office in West Windsor, went before representatives of Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection Wednesday night detailing plans to construct the facility on 22 acres at 100 Dean Sievers Place.

Rengarajan Ramesh of Elcon said the facility will use environmentally sustainable technology to transform industrial liquid waste into clean water, cutting down more on solid waste and lowering air emissions compared to other industry practices.

“It will be a completely sealed system to the point there are no odors coming out,” Ramesh said.

Elcon’s proposal is unrelated to the hazardous waste incinerator proposed earlier this year in Bristol, Pa. and later put on hold.

About 90 to 95 percent of waste Elcon treats is water that has not been used in the fracking process and can be reused, Ramesh said. The existing site is considered a brownfield and Elcon plans to improve conditions there, he said.

But members of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and Pennsylvania League of Women Voters said Elcon would annually treat 210,000 tons of raw hazardous waste, including mercury, lead and cadmium.

Red papers reading “hazardous waste” with a circle and line through the middle were handed out by group members present at the meeting.

Incineration would produce 39 tons of air emissions containing pollutants such as hydrochloric acid and nitrous oxide that could make their way to areas of Mercer County and Bordentown, environmentalists said.

December issue of Energy Justice Now | Celebrating 16 Victories for Clean Air in 2014!

Never fear, the December issue of Energy Justice Now — the national forum for the Dirty Energy Resistance — is here!

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"334","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"480","style":"width: 310px; height: 310px; margin: 3px 10px; float: left;","width":"480"}}]]Inside this issue: Celebrating 16 Victories for Clean Air in 2014!

- 16 Victories for Clean Air

From Shock to Victory: The Planet’s “Immune System” at Work

Incinerator in Frederick, MD Canceled After Decade-Long Fight

...and more!

Please share the December 2014 issue of Energy Justice Now with your friends, colleagues, neighbors, media, and elected officials! 

Subscribe to monthly email issues of Energy Justice Now!

 

 

Fossil Fuel Divestment: How to Evolve the Campaign Beyond its Shortcomings

- by Mike Ewall, Energy Justice Network

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"285","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"312","style":"line-height: 20.6719989776611px; width: 255px; height: 166px; margin: 3px 10px; float: left;","width":"480"}}]]Sometimes, environmental movement campaigns that become very popular aren’t the ones that are the most strategic. Trying to divert the fossil fuel divestment bandwagon to a better path hasn’t been easy (or well-received), but some critical examination is long overdue.

As activists like to point out, we don’t have much time to address climate change. We’re already past the point where we can “stop” it, and likely past the points where we can contain it to the two degree Celsius increase that supposedly averts catastrophic levels of climate disruption. Given this urgency, we cannot afford for so much time and energy to be spent on campaigns that aren’t fitted to the scale of the problem.  It’s like scaring people about how awful global warming is, then telling them that they just need to screw in a different light bulb and drive a Prius.

In short, the fossil fuel divestment campaign is symbolic and diverts attention from going after the largest and most critical sectors driving climate change, and from actually disconnecting institutions from reliance on fossil fuels. It implicitly greenwashes other dirty energy sources (some of which are worse than coal) by framing the problem as just about fossil fuels. It similarly ignores the largest cause of global warming: animal agriculture. Unlike the anti-Apartheid campaign, it fails to target corporations in a position to actually change their behavior. Finally, investments are likely to be shifted to smaller fossil fuel corporations, corporations that support the fossil fuel economy, or other damaging investments. Efforts to drive investments to truly clean alternatives will be hampered by economic contradictions, requiring a deeper economic analysis as the campaign evolves.

Divestment is a symbolic campaign, but not a strategic one

Some of the main national organizers of this campaign – even Bill McKibben, in private – have admitted that the campaign is symbolic. Jamie Henn, a spokesperson with 350.org, said divestment alone will not succeed in reversing climate change, stating: “We have no illusion that we can bankrupt a company like ExxonMobil through divestment, but we can vilify them to the point where they begin to lose their political influence.” While campaign supporters have been building arguments for how symbolic campaigns can have tangible results, the reality remains that it’s still a stretch, and that more direct campaigns to fight fossil fuels would do far more for the climate and the communities directly impacted by the industry.

Christian Parenti makes several good points in his late 2012 article in The Nation, titled "Problems With the Math: Is 350's Carbon Divestment Campaign Complete?" He points out that the most infamous climate deniers, Koch Industries, is privately held and is immune to divestment, as is 70% of world oil reserves (and even more of the ‘easy oil’) which are owned by national oil companies that are also heavily insulated from the tactic (though some are now partially traded). He points out that corporations don’t make money on investments (stock is mainly a way to get money out of these corporations), and that their bottom line isn’t impacted by investments, but by those consuming their products.

What Would be More Strategic?

The biggest contributor to climate change (as much as 51%) is animal agriculture. However, as the recent Cowspiracy documentary shows, big environmental groups are unwilling to talk about this and advice that people stop eating so much meat and dairy. The other elephant in the room is natural gas power plants. With methane being 86 to 105 times more potent than CO2 over a 20-year time-frame, and serious leakage of methane gas occurring throughout the natural gas infrastructure (which cannot be brought to levels lower than coal’s impacts), the current push from coal to gas is suicidal for the climate. There is a surge of about 300 gas-fired power plant proposals in the U.S. right now, and the major environmental groups are doing an excellent job of ignoring them, if not still championing the switch from coal to gas. If the time and energy (and funding) put into divestment were put toward stopping gas-fired power plants while there’s still time to challenge most of them, it would be a dramatic and real win. Divestment campaigns and power plant battles both aren’t easy to win, but the track record of stopping power plants is arguably far better than divestment’s track record so far. About 60% of the gas-fired power plant proposals in the last wave of development (10-15 years ago) were stopped. 400 were built. Many more weren’t. Each power plant stopped does far more than all divestment campaigns can claim to – avoiding about 30 years of fracking over each power plant’s lifetime.

Divestment is a student-centered campaign. Even if we don’t leave campuses, there are several ways corporations are tied to universities, including purchasing and service contracts, research grants, recruiting, and ties to board members (often called trustees or regents).

A campus divestment campaign could just as easily include campaigns like the one run by the Ohio Student Environmental Coalition (which Energy Justice Network started in 2006 to fight proposed coal plants in Ohio) where Ohio State University students successfully pressured their campus president to step down from the board of Massey Energy, a major coal mining corporation. Could that also be seen as symbolic?  Perhaps, but corporate influence over those running universities has had effects on curriculum and other corporate-university relationships – more than stockholding has in terms of influence.

Far more relevant would be to get schools and other institutions to replace fossil fuel use with demand reduction and clean, non-burn alternatives. This would directly stop their financial support for climate change, while becoming demonstration sites for how we should all live. Ending reliance on industry-funded scientific research (and getting more public funding for it) would also go a long way to end the “science for hire” that has our universities cranking out “tobacco science” promoting dirty energy.

Bloomberg isn’t something I’d normally cite, but they hit the nail on the head with this recent opinion piece

“If divestment activists were serious about making a difference, setting an example, and drawing the full weight of America’s moral opprobrium onto the makers and consumers of fossil fuels, they’d be pushing a University Agenda that looked more like this:

  1. Require administrators, faculty, sports teams and other student groups to travel exclusively by boat and rail, except for “last mile” journeys.
  2. Cease construction of new buildings on campus.
  3. Stop air conditioning buildings, except for laboratories and archives that require climate control. Keep the heat no higher than 60 degrees in winter.
  4. Put strict caps on power consumption by students, keeping it to enough electricity to power one computer and one study lamp. Remove power outlets from classrooms, except for one at the front for the teacher.
  5. Ban meat from campus eateries and require full-time students to be on a meal plan.
  6. Remove all parking spots from campus.
  7. Stop operating campus shuttles, except for disabled students.
  8. Divest the endowment from fossil-fuel companies, if it makes you feel better

Why has No. 8 jumped to No. 1? Because it’s easy. Because a group of students pushing endowment divestiture can shut down a public meeting and be rewarded with the opportunity to hold a teach-in; a group of students pushing a faculty flying ban and the end of campus parking would find the powers that be considerably more unfriendly. Not to mention their fellow students. Or, for that matter, their fellow activists, few of whom are actually ready to commit to never in their lives traveling out of America’s pitiful passenger rail network. This is what I meant in an earlier post where I said that doing the easy but pointless thing is a substitute for, rather than a complement to, the hard and necessary thing.”

Dirty Energy is NOT just Fossil Fuels

 

Especially since the campaign is a symbolic one, it’s important that we educate people properly and stop feeding the perception that fossil fuels are the only dirty energy source, or the only fuels cooking the climate. This focus on fossil fuels has major blind spots, both for the climate and environmental justice.

Trash incineration, biomass incineration, landfill gas burning and biofuels are all promoted as renewable and carbon neutral, even though they’re worse than their worst fossil fuel counterparts. Nuclear power is also a serious problem, with its own climate impacts, which sucks up the money needed to transition away from fossil fuels.

Trash incineration is 2.5 times as bad for the climate as coal, and is far worse by every other measure of pollutants as well.  New EPA loopholes, as well as Obama’s Clean Power Plan, are poised to have coal plants and all sorts of boilers start burning trash without regulation or community notification. Divestment, like other climate policies, ignores incinerator emissions, even though over half of the CO2 emissions from trash incineration are from the burning of plastics and other fossil-fuel-derived products.

Biomass incineration is 50% worse than coal for the climate, and claims of carbon neutrality have been repeatedly debunked. “Save the climate, burn a tree” doesn’t make for a catchy cause, but forests in the U.S. are being logged for this “renewable” power, and are even being chipped and shipped (with fossil fuels) to Europe to be burned in converted giant coal plants. Ignoring “biogenic” CO2 emissions is just another form a climate denial.

Landfill gas burning for energy is even worse than trash incineration, as organic wastes are continually fed to landfills to become CO2 and methane. Burning the gas for energy, ironically, causes more gas to escape the already pitiful gas capture systems, making it worse to use for energy than to just waste and flare the gas (even if coal were displaced by the small amount of power generated). True zero waste solutions are needed, including keeping organics out of landfills, to tackle this major methane source.

Biofuels are worse than petroleum  for the climate, necessitating that we stop trying to grow fuels (using natural gas-based nitrogen fertilizers and other fossil inputs), and move away from burnable fuels altogether.

Nuclear power is the most expensive (and subsidized) form of power and one of the most destructive and racist. It is a false solution that sucks up all of the economic resources needed to transition away from fossil fuels. It also uses a significant amount of fossil fuels to chew up large amounts of land and bring uranium through four energy-intensive steps of processing before it can be used in a reactor.

By making these dirty energy climate impacts invisible, divestment campaigns feed the perception that these energy sources are valid alternatives to fossil fuels. A campaign that is more symbolic than strategic should at least ensure that its campaigners “get it” about these false solutions, and not pretend that their impacts are zero. More troubling is the fact that nuclear power and incineration disproportionately impact low-income communities and communities of color. Keeping their struggles invisible perpetuates the injustices.

Even natural gas is partially greenwashed by divestment, since it only measures the top corporate divestment targets in terms of CO2 emissions – without including the substantial leaks of gas throughout the system that cause fracked gas to be worse than coal for the climate. If leaked methane was properly accounted for, far more fracking companies would be campaign targets. Since the campaign only targets extraction-sector corporations, the energy utilities and power plant developers driving the market for the gas are left untouched, even though demand-side campaigning would be far more effective.

Fossil Fuel Divestment is NOT based on the Anti-Apartheid Divestment Campaign

 

Fossil fuel divestment is not like divestment from South African apartheid. The Free Burma movement of the 1990s was. In both cases, multinational corporations were pressured to divest from specific countries.  In the mid-1990s, after the Free Burma movement pressured Pepsico to leave Burma, where the company had sponsored trade shows for the military junta, Texaco was the next major campaign target. Texaco was working to build a gas pipeline through the rainforest using slave labor. Soon after the University of Wisconsin system divested over $230,000 in Texaco stock, specifically over this issue, Texaco pulled out of the pipeline project, just before they were about to be the target of a new national student campaign. These victories in Burma and South Africa were possible because corporations were pressured to cut their losses by dropping one small part of their overall operation.

 

Targeting the Wrong Corporations

 

Unlike those earlier divestment campaigns, the Fossil Fuel Divestment strategy is asking Exxon to stop being Exxon. If the campaign wanted to directly change corporate behavior through divestment, it needs to go after the corporations that can afford to make these changes, such as targeting the banks that finance dirty energy, or the cement companies that provide cement casings for fracking wells, or the power plant developers and utilities driving the demand for coal and gas. Such a campaign needs to target the corporations that enable the Exxon’s of the world, not expect Exxon itself to respond to minor fluctuations in stock price.

 

Reinvesting in What?

 

Unless reinvested wisely, money will just shift to other bad corporations, like the banks that finance fossil fuels, or companies that supply them, or other types of dirty energy. Shifting investments away from the top 200 corporations targeted by the campaign could likely mean shifting to smaller fossil fuel corporations, as Haverford College points out:

 

The campaign focuses on 200 companies identified as having the largest proven reserves of fossil fuel resources, but does not address investments in other companies with marginally smaller fossil fuel reserves, or in companies with closely related activities, such as drilling and exploration services. When the College investigated a claim that a portfolio can be ‘optimized’ to exclude the 200 named companies while closely tracking the performance of a broad index fund, we learned that this was accomplished by replacing the excluded fossil fuel companies with other, smaller fossil fuel companies and associated service companies. We question the symbolic power of a strategy that would merely replace certain fossil fuel companies with other players in the same or related industry.”

 

Shifting from the targeted 200 corporations to smaller or ancillary fossil fuel companies or their funders is the opposite of strategic. These other corporations are the ones who could more easily be moved by a divestment campaign.

 

As the divestment campaign evolves, the need for reinvesting in clean solutions has become more of a priority.  However, there are inherent contradictions in trying to play within the confines of institutions that insist on getting high returns on their “investments.” Even the term “investment” is misleading, as putting money into stock markets is more akin to gambling than investing, and is more often about getting money out of corporations (by doing nothing to earn it), than about stock being used to build the company.

 

Marjorie Kelly, co-founder (and for 20 years, president) of Business Ethics magazine, points this out in her book, The Divine Right of Capital: Dethroning the Corporate Aristocracy. After touting socially-responsible business for decades, she came to the conclusion that corporations are inherently incapable of being socially responsible, and wrote that book to outline how corporations should be radically redesigned. The intro of her book explains: 

 

Stockholders fund major public corporations -- True or false?

 

False.  Or, actually, a tiny bit true — but for the most part, massively false.  In fact, “investing” dollars don't go to AT&T but to other speculators.  Equity investments reach a public corporation only when new common stock is sold — which for major corporations is a rare event.  Among the Dow Jones industrials, only a handful has sold any new common stock in thirty years.  Many have sold none in fifty years.”

 

The capitol flow for these large corporations is in the opposite direction, forcing the corporation to internalize profits, externalize costs and constantly grow as fast as possible. The very nature of investing supports an economic growth model that is killing the planet.  Infinite growth on a finite planet is impossible. As Edward Abbey once said, “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.”  As a friend put it to me, “first we knew that the earth was flat, then we knew the earth was round… now we know that the earth is constantly growing.”

 

Clearly, we need to move beyond this understanding of the world, as if we can expect corporations to constantly grow the economy, returning profits to shareholders as if resources are endless. If we don’t challenge this premise and these economic models, we’re just reinforcing this market-based capitalist framework that brought us these problems in the first place. We need a steady state economy, but such an economic model isn’t something that an institution can invest in, expecting a return.

 

Are we smashing capitalism yet?

 

After the huge People’s Climate March, I participated in “Flood Wall Street” – a sit-in a few blocks from Wall Street, which stopped traffic (but not Wall Street) for several hours. Many were eager to “smash capitalism” – which I support – but I find it amusing how it’s framed as a one-step act, perhaps to be done on the way home from work. The idea is usually offered up by those who can’t articulate what the first steps might be to smash capitalism. I think it’s safe to say that shifting investments from a set of 200 large corporations to other corporations (large or small) is not a step toward smashing the capitalist growth-based economic model that is cooking our planet.

 

Worker-owned cooperatives and publicly-owned energy systems are one good step away from corporate control. However, they generally aren’t the sorts of systems that return profits to absentee shareholders.  Using investments as the primary tactic limits the campaign to alternatives that are still growth-based and expectant on making money by doing nothing. The best alternative I’ve heard, which is a wonderful idea, is to reinvest endowments in the creation of new cooperatives to reduce energy demand locally and return some of the savings to the investors. We need to hit a point where all home and building owners are approached with offers to fund their maximizing use of conservation, efficiency and non-burn heating and electricity alternatives. This approach couples the investment alternatives with a real way to reduce use of fossil (and bio-) fuels.

 

Evolving the Campaign & "Divesting" in the Broad Sense

 

The two main national U.S. student socially responsible investment (SRI) movements in the 1990s rapidly evolved and radicalized once they saw the need to have a deeper anti-corporate analysis.  That analysis was informed, in large part, by the "Taking Care of Business" booklet that launched the modern anti-corporate personhood movement, and related materials. The 2003 documentary, The Corporationwhich exposes how modern corporations meet the government’s definition of a psychopath, is also an eye-opener calling us to a deeper analysis and more meaningful tactics.  

 

We need to “divest” in a much broader sense. Let’s stop the 300-some proposed gas-fired power plants while there’s still time. Let’s also stop the rest of the dirty energy infrastructure, whether it be the popular pipeline to protest, the not-so-known pipelines, the Bakken crude oil “bomb trains,” the coal and nuclear facilities, or the biomass and waste incinerators. Let’s attack the demand by making campuses and communities into models of how to get away from burning anything to meet our energy needs. Let’s look honestly at the need to end animal agriculture and be willing to talk to people about what they eat, and change institutional choices in the matter. Let’s challenge one another’s environmental organizations to admit that deeper changes are needed, to focus on some of the immediate threats they’re ignoring, and to stop promoting bad policies, like Obama’s Clean Power Plan, carbon tax or trading schemes, and “renewable” energy policies that include biomass or other combustion sources.

 

Plugging in: Students seeking out a more radical (getting to the root of a problem), justice-oriented way to plug in are encouraged to check out the Student Environmental Action Coalition and to explore our campus organizing resources, including our Energy Justice Shale Initiative (formerly Energy Justice Summer) and Frack U. programs, supporting grassroots resistance to fracking. Anyone seeking to work with front-line impacted communities, or wanting to explore how reinvestment can benefit some of the environmental justice communities we work with (like Chester, PA) should get in touch with us at Energy Justice Network and check out our map of communities impacted by dirty energy and waste facilities.

 

Mike Ewall is founder and director of Energy Justice Network, a national support network for grassroots activists fighting dirty energy and waste facilities. 

300 Fracked Gas Power Plants Proposed in 45 States: Any Near You? [Energy Justice Now, Sept. 2014]

Ready or not, here it comes: the September issue of Energy Justice Network's new publication, Energy Justice Now!

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"267","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"345","style":"width: 333px; height: 272px; margin: 3px 10px; float: left;","width":"422"}}]]Inside this issue:

“Why We Must Fight Gas-Fired Power Plants”

- “Energy Justice Summer: Standing With Communities in the Shalefields

- “What the Frack? Scraping the Bottom of the Oil Barrel

...and more!!!

Please share the September 2014 issue of Energy Justice Now with your friends, colleagues, neighbors, media, and elected officials!

Subscribe to monthly email issues of Energy Justice Now here.